Prehistoric to Romano-British field system and settlement at Higher Town, St Agnes


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1015003

Date first listed: 04-Oct-1996


Ordnance survey map of Prehistoric to Romano-British field system and settlement at Higher Town, St Agnes
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Isles of Scilly (Unitary Authority)

Parish: St. Agnes

National Grid Reference: SV 88343 08357


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

The Isles of Scilly, the westernmost of the granite masses of south west England, contain a remarkable abundance and variety of archaeological remains from over 4000 years of human activity. The remote physical setting of the islands, over 40km beyond the mainland in the approaches to the English Channel, has lent a distinctive character to those remains, producing many unusual features important for our broader understanding of the social development of early communities. Throughout the human occupation there has been a gradual submergence of the islands' land area, providing a stimulus to change in the environment and its exploitation. This process has produced evidence for responses to such change against an independent time-scale, promoting integrated studies of archaeological, environmental and linguistic aspects of the islands' settlement. The islands' archaeological remains demonstrate clearly the gradually expanding size and range of contacts of their communities. By the post- medieval period (from AD 1540), the islands occupied a nationally strategic location, resulting in an important concentration of defensive works reflecting the development of fortification methods and technology from the mid 16th to the 20th centuries. An important and unusual range of post- medieval monuments also reflects the islands' position as a formidable hazard for the nation's shipping in the western approaches. The exceptional preservation of the archaeological remains on the islands has long been recognised, producing an unusually full and detailed body of documentation, including several recent surveys. Irregular field systems are one of several methods of field layout known to have been employed in the Isles of Scilly from the Bronze Age to the Roman period (c.2000 BC - AD 400); closer dating within that period may be provided by the visible relationships of the field boundaries to other classes of monument with a shorter known time-span of use, or by their relationship with an earlier recorded sea level. They comprise a collection of field plots, generally lacking in conformity of orientation and arrangement, containing fields of varying shapes and sizes, bounded by rubble walls or banks, often incorporating edge- or end-set slabs called orthostats. Some irregular field systems on the Isles of Scilly contain a distinctive association, rarely encountered elsewhere, whereby certain of their field boundaries directly incorporate or link cairns, entrance graves and cists in some groups of prehistoric funerary monuments. Although no precise figure is available, irregular field systems form one of the three principal forms of prehistoric field system, along with regular field systems and some groups of prehistoric linear boundaries, which survive in over 70 areas of the Isles of Scilly. They provide significant insights into the physical and social organisation of past landscapes and they provide evidence for the wider contemporary context within which other nationally important monuments were constructed.

The prehistoric to Romano-British field system in this monument survives well, showing clearly the form of prehistoric and later enclosure, and the influence upon it of the underlying terrain. The habitation sites contained within the field system illustrate the nature of early settlement, especially relevant to the Romano-British period, and the limited investigations and chance finds made over recent decades have confirmed the good survival of buried structures, artefacts and occupation debris within the monument while causing minimal disturbance. The substantial lynchetting that has affected most of the field system's boundaries will also preserve valuable structural and environmental evidence contemporary with the field system's construction and use. In a wider context it complements the surviving early field systems on Porth Killier and Gugh, forming a key element to assist our understanding of prehistoric and later land use over a far wider area than the confines of the monument.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes a prehistoric to Romano-British field system extending north and north west from Higher Town on the north east of St Agnes, the south western inhabited island in the Isles of Scilly. The field system incorporates a settlement containing at least two habitation sites and a midden of occupation debris. The field system survives over most of the summit area of a low hill immediately north of the present hamlet of Higher Town; further traces extend down much of the hill's north east slope. The field system is defined by low turf-covered banks, generally 1.5m-2m wide and 0.3m-1m high. Where they follow the contour, most appear as lynchets, having a distinctive stepped profile reflecting the movement of soil on the slope against their uphill sides and away from their downhill sides, a process accelerated by the effects of early cultivation. An electricity cable trench cut through one lynchet in 1985 revealed the bank was formed from heaped rubble, considered to derive from stone clearance of the plot interior. At several points the field system's lynchets and banks meet field corners of the modern enclosures or have their courses extended by wavering lengths of modern field boundary, denoting an earlier boundary continuing beneath and influencing the course of the modern boundary, contrasting with the predominantly straight-line boundaries laid out in recent centuries. The combined pattern of the field system's exposed and overlain banks and lynchets defines a network of at least seven small plots ranging from 0.1ha to 0.3ha each, though several are truncated by recent enclosure around the limits of the monument. The plots are generally subrectangular, laid out on the slope with upper and lower boundaries roughly following the contour; those plots at the summit of the hill and extending to a natural rocky outcrop to the north west have a polygonal shape and are defined by more curving boundaries than elsewhere in the monument. Settlement remains within the field system are focussed around the summit of the hill. A hut circle is located 50m ENE of the hill's summit and is built against the uphill side of a north west - south east lynchet in the field system. The hut circle is blanketed by turf but is visible as a circular bank, 7.5m in external diameter and 0.25m high, defining a slightly hollowed internal area, 4m in diameter, much infilled by soil deposits developed since its abandonment. A second habitation site was discovered in the 1960s during ploughing and subsequent excavation, 50m west of the hut circle and a little north of the hill's summit. The ploughing revealed a type of slab called a `post-holed stone', bearing a distinctive small hollow in one surface and considered to have formed a pivot-base for a door; limited excavation around the slab revealed a stone-lined drain. The slab and drain were left in place and re-buried with soil. The combination of post-holed stones and stone-lined drains are characteristic components of Romano-British settlement sites in Scilly and west Cornwall; their discovery here is considered to indicate one such site lying undisturbed in the close vicinity of the area previously investigated. Early occupation, especially of Romano-British date, is further indicated by finds of artefacts and occupation debris within the monument. An enamelled copper-alloy brooch datable to the 2nd century AD has been found in the field immediately north of the site of the post-holed stone and drain, while several fragments of Romano-British pottery were recorded from fields within and adjacent to the monument on the east side of the hill's summit during electricity cable trenching in 1985. Close to the early settlement focus on the summit of the hill, limited excavation in 1960 revealed a midden of early occupation debris containing bones of sheep, cattle, pig, seal and red deer. Beyond this monument, a prehistoric field system and settlement also survives from 50m to the north west on the coastal land bordering Porth Killier and Kallimay Point, with further such remains from 300m to the north east on northern Gugh, visible from this monument across Porth Conger. These prehistoric field systems and settlements are the subjects of separate schedulings. The modern electricity cable trench and its contents, all modern fences, gates and their fittings are excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath them, including hedgebanks, is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 15456

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Ratcliffe, J, Lighting up the Past in Scilly, (1991)
Ratcliffe, J, Lighting up the Past in Scilly, (1991)
Ratcliffe, J, Lighting up the Past in Scilly, (1991)
Turk, F A, 'Cornish Archaeology' in Notes on Cornish Mammals in Prehistoric and Historic Times: 1, (1968), 73-79
Turk, F A, 'Cornish Archaeology' in Notes on Cornish Mammals in Prehistoric and Historic Times: 1, (1968)
Ratcliffe, J & Straker, V, Land Use and Environmental Change in the Isles of Scilly, 1995, Unpubl draft, July 1995, pp 58-62
Ratcliffe, J & Straker, V, Land Use and Environmental Change in the Isles of Scilly, 1995, Unpubl draft, July 1995, pp 58-62
Ratcliffe, J & Straker, V, Land Use and Environmental Change in the Isles of Scilly, 1995, Unpubl draft, July 1995, pp 58-62
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 8808 Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Waters, A/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7034.01, (1988)
Waters, A/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7034.02, (1988)
Waters, A/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7034.03, (1988)
Waters, A/CAU, AM 107s for Scilly SMR entries PRN 7034 & 7034.04, (1988)
Waters, A/CAU, AM 107s for Scilly SMR entries PRN 7034, 7034.01-.03, (1988)

End of official listing